- The Washington Times - Monday, August 12, 2002

SPARTA, Ky. (AP) Actor Jason Priestley's race car crashed head-on into a wall at nearly 180 mph yesterday at the Kentucky Speedway, breaking his back and leaving him in serious condition with a concussion and other injuries.

The former "Beverly Hills 90210" TV star was on a respirator to keep him sedated, but he was breathing on his own and was alert, said Indy Racing League medical director Henry Bock.

Mr. Priestley was flown to the University of Kentucky Medical Center with a spinal fracture in the middle of his back and a closed head injury, as well as broken bones in both feet, Mr. Bock said.

"At this time, there's no indication there's any other injury to the head" besides the concussion, Mr. Bock said. "His vital signs are stable He has his eyes open. He looks around and will follow commands."

Mr. Bock said there was no sign of paralysis and that tests on Mr. Priestley would continue probably through the night. He would not speculate on how long Mr. Priestley's recovery would take.

The 32-year-old driver crashed coming out of the second turn in the final practice for the Kentucky 100, an Infiniti Pro Series race.

"He got sideways and he corrected and then shot off the track," said former Indy 500 winner Arie Luyendyk, whose son, Arie Jr., competes with Mr. Priestley in the Infiniti Pro Series, an IRL developmental series. "He turned right into the wall, and his first impact was basically head-on."

Mr. Luyendyk said Mr. Priestley appeared to have driven through "oil-dry," a material that had been spread on part of the track about 10 minutes earlier to absorb oil from another car.

All the drivers had been warned to avoid it, said IRL Vice President Fred Nation.

Mr. Priestley began racing in 1991 in the California Rally Series and won his first race at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in 1998.

Last season, he was a broadcast analyst for the IRL series. He joined the Kelley Racing team this year in the new Infiniti Pro Series, a developmental circuit with open-wheel cars that are similar but smaller and less powerful than the IRL cars.

After a strong qualifying run Saturday in which he came in second, Mr. Priestley said confidence was a key to racing.

"With these cars, so much of it is just being able to keep your foot in it and understand that the car actually will hold the road," he said. "I guess in a lot of ways most oval drivers at some time just put their faith in a higher power that they're actually going to make it around the corner."

"He's shown he's a good racer," driver Ed Carpenter said after the crash. "It's sad anytime one of our competitors gets hurt."

Mr. Priestley, a native of British Columbia, became a TV heartthrob starring alongside Luke Perry, Shannen Doherty and Jennie Garth in the Fox network's "Beverly Hills 90210," which ran from 1990 to 2000.

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